The Moral Compass of Modernity

Darren Fleet (Adbusters Magazine, October 2013):
Our present age is the final act of the modern obsession with the promise of more. The desire for increase was the impulse at the heart of Caesar Augustus, the Mongol conquest of Asia, the Bantu migration in Central Africa, the rise of the Aztec and Inca kingdoms in the Americas, the British Empire and the current American and Chinese century. At the end of every battle was the promise of pillage. Battle now, get paid later. This make empire financially possible. It is the identical philosophy of the "buy now, pay later" and "zero-percent-down" schemes so ubiquitous throughout the West. The relationship between empire and pillage has changed little, save for the fact that the ability to export nature has now outpaced humanity's ability to exploit one another (though it hasn't replaced it). Where there is a center, there must also be a frontier to feed the center. This translates into a new set of mutually dependent entities: where there is a shopping mall, there must be a factory; where there is energy, there must be ecocide; where there is health, there must be sickness; where there is consumption, there must be waste; where there is pristine, there must be polluted; where there is progress, there must be regression and desire. This material reality has a mental parallel. Within each of us there is also an insatiable thirst for increase and abundance. This is fueled by advertising, propaganda and, increasingly, self-delusion. This internalized graph of progress, one that points exponentially up, governs our relationships, our careers, our sex lives, our friendships, our families, our waist lines, our jobs, our purchasing, our houses, our cars, our travels...everything. According to this way of thinking, satisfaction is a sign of weakness. Poverty is a sign of laziness and ineptitude. Wealth is a sign of attraction and prowess. This new moral compass of modernity, the consciousness of our world today, is dependent on a single paradoxical truth: infinite growth.

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7 thoughts on “The Moral Compass of Modernity”

  1. ............we battle not against flesh and blood...........
    I work in an industry that drives this way of thinking, public education. We are base a person's indicator for success on how well they function in educationally. As an educator yourself, how do you separate the idea that

    "satisfaction is a sign of weakness. Poverty is a sign of laziness and ineptitude. Wealth is a sign of attraction and prowess" from the idea that education is the engine that drives success?

  2. Wise and good writing, as the paragraph above, stands out when the truth is presented in a gentle manner, and we still yell, "OUCH". The books by Thomas Merton do the same. He is one of the few I can sit down to read anticipating joy and being "poked to death". His writings of how we have become slaves to advertising, to the powers telling us what is supposed to make us live good and feel good, to what a good citizen should be, should be on the shelves of every church library. And though he was a Catholic, Trappist Monk, as well as a mystic, his writings, with a little creativity and craftsmanship, can be great study material for Bible classes. But I am not sure most Evangelical ministers are that adventurous.

    I am now in my mid sixties, and I have been reading Merton for over twenty five years. Some say his writings are somewhat dated. I think they say that simply because much of it had to do with his opposition to the Vietnam War and his support for the Civil Rights movement. Of course, looking at the political landscape today, I think his thoughts on those subjects have new life. But his teachings on how to live in the present without the trappings of commercial and political consumerism are still relevant and sharp. It took me that long to realize that one mode of "death and resurrection" can be in being "poked to death" just as long as we find someone who has the love and wisdom to do it right.

  3. And then there was Max Weber’s Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism to add into this robust mix…

    'Max Weber's book the Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism, published in 1905, proposed that Protestantism had been a significant factor in the emergence of capitalism. He made an explicit connection between religious ideas and economic systems. Weber suggested that Calvinism, with its emphasis on personal asceticism and the merits of hard work, had created an ethic which had enabled the success of capitalism in Protestant countries. Weber's essay has come in for some criticism since he published the work, but it is still seen as one of the seminal texts of 20th-century sociology.

    Melvyn Bragg is joined by Peter Ghosh, Fellow in History at St Anne's College, Oxford; Sam Whimster, Honorary

    Professor in Sociology at the University of New South Wales and Linda Woodhead, Professor of Sociology of Religion at Lancaster University.' ~BBC Radio 4

    Amazing, just this morning heard this on Radio 4's In Our Time (Melvyn Bragg's excellent weekly series) and THEN read your long Fleet quote for today.

  4. interesting post Richard.... Couldn't help but think when I read this; "Within each of us there is also an insatiable thirst for increase and abundance. " - that many of my churched friends will read out mantras like "thirst for increase and abundance" as though they are a directive from the Divine.

  5. Thoreau called us (humans) "gross feeders," and Walden was a sustained experiment challenging the notion that consumption beyond necessity is correlated with living well. Wendell Berry's What Are People For? makes the same challenge. But it's odd that there are so few notable challenges to an assumption which will be our (humanity's) undoing.

  6. The Battle of Ai comes to mind . . . Better let loose of that junk!!

  7. What also gets me are PASTORS, who compete for the higher paying churches!! May it never be!!! But it is! As an UNPAID assistant (UMC), I was criticized and frowned upon for actively seeking a PAID appointment, while my Senior's package was over $70,000. She deserved it, but GEESH. You think they could have offered SOMETHING! Now Montana, Yellowstone Conference is looking for pastors. Why? Too many retiring and not enough out of seminary considering Montana . . . Those churches don't pay enough! Give me a tent and gas money!! I WILL GO!! #disappointed #disillusioned #broken hearted for the Church.

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